New Biotech Applications in Environmental

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Oct 23, 2013 (3 years and 7 months ago)

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New Biotech Applications in Environmental
Protection

The EPA has had outstanding performance in applying biotechnology to

pollution site remediation and environmental sampling and analysis in

recent years. Taiwan's performance and development of biochi
ps, rapid

dioxin screening and testing for biological toxins attests to the nation's

ability to stay abreast of environmental analysis.

Biotechnology has come to be known as the technology with the most widespread
applications of the century. Biotechnolo
gy has extensive influence on many fields, especially
in terms of its contributions toward applications in pollution site remediation and
environmental

sampling and analysis. In recent years, the EPA has yielded success in its
research, development and ado
ption of three key biotechnologies for the detection of fungi
spores in indoor air, dioxin in various media, and biotoxins in river sediment. The following
article details these three biotechnologies.

Biochip Analysis of Harmful Fungi: Rapid, Accurate,
Ine
xpensive

Pathogenic

fungi often infect human respiratory systems, skin or whole bodies, sometimes
even leading to death. More attention is gradually being given to the health threats of fungal
diseases. Special focus has been placed on four kinds of danger
ous fungi, which the American
Industrial Health Association (AIHA) recommends should be absent from
indoor

air:
Aspergillus versicolor, Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus flavus, and Stachybotrys chartarum
(see figure 1).


According to the Indoor Air Quali
ty Recommended Values announced by the EPA, the
recommended value for fungal spores is under 1,000 CFU/m3 indoors. This represents the
number of fungal spores in one cubic meter of indoor air. The higher the spore count, the
greater the risk of becoming in
fected.


To accurately describe the extent of harmful fungal spores in indoor air, and to confirm
whether indoor areas are harmful environments or not, it is first necessary to determine which
species of fungi are present. Traditional analysis entails cult
ivation of fungi or analyzing dyed
specimen under a microscope to determine the species. This method relies on the subjective
judgment of analysts to
determine

the possible fungal species. Due to the wide range of
changes in fungi
characteristic
s, this ide
ntification method is often subject to human error.
Moreover, this analysis method often requires two to three weeks.


Biochips can be used to confirm fungi species through genetic analysis.
This

method utilizes
the precise analytical methods of molecular
biotechnology. Each fungi has unique genetic
fragments that are different from other fungal species, and the detection of these unique genes
can verify the occurrence of a particular fungi. Many different test probes can be placed on
one biochip. As each p
robe is capable of detecting the unique genes of one particular species
of fungi, one chip can simultaneously screen out several species that may otherwise be
erroneously detected by lab analysts.


Lacking a market for biochips made for environmental anal
ysis of fungi, the EPA has
independently developed a rapid and accurate chip for detecting harmful fungi. The EPA and
National Cheng Kung University

s Department of
Medical Tec
hnology cooperated on
preliminary research and development of a biochip that can

simultaneously

detect eleven
kinds of common airborne pathogenic fungi. The use of this chip shortens analysis time by
two
-
thirds compared to traditional methods.


Rapid Screening of Dioxin for a Safer Environment

Testing
for
dioxin
involves extremely d
ifficult microanalysis technology. High resolution
gas
chromatography

-

mass spectrometry

(HRGC/MS) has traditionally been used in the past.
While this is accurate, it comes at a high cost and takes a long time. Moreover, highly
concentrated samples are su
bject to contamination in laboratory environments during
microanalysis.
This

factor greatly decreases the lifetime of HRGC/MS equipment.


Replacing this older technology with biological rapid analysis technology helps analysts
detect a large number of sam
ples in a short time at a lower cost. In recent years many
advanced nations have adopted rapid dioxin screening methods. The EPA has successively
introduced two types of rapid dioxin biological screening technologies from Holland (Dr.
Calux
®

cell screening
) and the US (Procept
®

bioanalysis screening).


In 2004, the EPA organized the transfer of r
apid biological

dioxin screening technology to
Taiwan through the Dutch company BDS with a cell screening product called Dr. Calux
®
. To
ensure the feasibility of t
his method in detecting dioxin concentrations in various media
including soil, food products, blood samples, and stock feed, the EPA used the Dr. Calux
®

cell screening method in onsite applications to detect various media at sites known to have
dioxin cont
amination. The media included biological samples (fish, birds, eggs, feed,
crustaceans, and plants), soil, benthic substrate, fly ash, and stack emissions. The results of
this method showed a high degree of correlation with results of the traditional HRGC/
MS
method.


I
n addition, this method can analyze samples in three to seven days, effectively shortening
analysis time. The advantages of this method show its worth as an accurate, simple, and time
and cost effective analysis method.


The Procept
®

Rapid Di
oxin Assay is the newest available dioxin screening technology. The
verified results of experiments on soil and benthic substrate samples were reported in January
2007 by the US EPA. In December of the same year, the US EPA had
already

announced
related st
andard methods: SW
-
846 Method 4430. The highlight of this method is its adoption
of r
eal
-
time polymerase chain reaction

to analyze samples.


The
EPA first confirmed whether this method is suitable for dioxin screening in various
environmental media, and o
ptimized the extraction and sterilization process. Analysis of fly
ash, benthic substrate and biological samples was compared with HRGC/HRMS analysis
results. Preliminary findings showed a high degree of correlation with conventional chemical
methods. The
analysis period had been shortened to only five days. One testing session could
produce standard samples, quality control samples and 38 analysis samples, making this
method suitable for screening large quantities of samples.



DR
-
CALUX®

Procept®

Certification

EU certified

US EPA certified in 2007

Cost of establishing
technology

Over NT$6 million

Under NT$3 million

Testing time

About 7 days

About 5 days

Cost of analysis

About NT$9,000 per
sample

About NT$5,000 per
sample

Analysis capacity

About 120 samples per
month

About 200 samples per
month

Personnel training time

Over 3 weeks

1 week

Sensitivity

High

Average

Suitable sampling
mediums

All mediums

Soil, benthic substrate, fly
ash

Chart: Comparison of dioxin biologica
l rapid screening methods


Testing for Biological Toxins in Sediment Aids River Pollution
Aspect

Method


Assessment

In past years, surveys and pollution assessments of river water bodies have focused on testing
water quality pollution parameters. This conventional assess
ment method is limited to narrow
range of physical and chemical properties of river surface water and does not provide an
in
-
depth understanding of water flow downstream or overall quality of sediment and river
mouth water quality. Moreover, this method do
es not provide an assessment of harmful water
biota and human health risks. It also does not provide an in
-
depth survey of inorganic heavy
metals, persistent organic pollutants or newly emerging pollutants. These factors show this
method is unable to confi
rm the extent of pollution in rivers.


Pollutants in river
s

settle, flocculate and accumulate in sediment at the bottom of rivers only
to surface again after dissolving or washing away, becoming released once again into water
bodies. Such re
-
emerging pollu
tants are now recognized as a common source of river
pollution. Moreover, the benthic substrate of rivers is an
important

habitat for
bottom
-
dwelling biota. After conducting physical and chemical parameters analysis and
biological toxin testing, the harmfu
lness of river pollution can be assessed in terms of risks
for river life and human health.


The
US and other countries have long employed biological toxin testing of benthic substrate
to assess the potency of toxins in sediment after many years. The EPA
established

the
nation

s first water flow benthic substrate toxic testing
equipment

in 2007. The USGS
Sediment Testing Intermittent Renewal (STIR) system was then adopted in 2008 to conduct
river flow sediment toxicity testing.
S
everal species have been se
lected to carry out tests and
find suitable specimen for testing in Taiwan.


Test results show that apart from setting benthic substrate quality standards, river ecology risk
assessment parameters and a reference for assessing the effectiveness of river r
emediation
results, future applications may include assessing factory flow discharge to prevent pollutants
from being discharged into rivers.


As for future planning and development in the field of biotechnology, the EPA indicates
biochip research and dev
elopment currently awaits refinement in order to expand the
application levels and enhance effectiveness. Although research and development of highly
accurate probes usually requires several months, biochip testing offers advantages in terms of
speed, accu
racy, and simplicity. Apart from research and development of new probes for
disease
-
causing fungi, the field lies open to further research and
development

of testing chips
with various applications for different environments including air, water quality, a
nd common
pathogens.
















Figure 1: These four species of microscopic fungi can be detected using just one tiny
chip


From Environmental Policy Monthly, Vol. XI issue 8

Aspergillus
fumigatus

fumigatus

Aspergillus
flavus

Asp
ergillus
versicolor

Stachybotrys

chartarum

Left: biochip with fungi. Right:

o
ne New Taiwan Dollar